Sometimes as we break through into adulthood and beyond – building new relationships, forging new careers, getting married, having babies; all the things that fall under the typical trajectory of life for many of us – it is easy to forget to thank those instrumental to our success.
For those blessed with the gift of a mother’s love, there are certain times when a girl needs her mum the most. Often at points when our bodies and minds intersect into an unknown abyss, filling us with curiosity and fear.
A first period; a potentially horrifying event, even when anticipated. In the 1920’s, my grandmother took the arrival of the sudden onset of blood loss to mean her imminent death; because of this, she equipped my mother with the knowledge of what was to come; my mother imparting this knowledge to me years before I needed it. When it happened to me for the first time, both expectantly and un-expectantly, I rang my mother to collect me from school. I remember my brisk walk to her car, the strategically placed scratchy wool of my school sweater, wrapped tightly around my waist in a double knot.
One year prior, my mother, like so many mothers, daughters, sisters within our wider community, had received a breast cancer diagnosis. I could not know how much I needed my mother, how much I would need her still but I remember lying on the couch, sobbing, my kitten nestled down on my chest – my parent’s timely acquisition – her soft fur, the purring of her motor as I held her tight, gripping onto the only reality I knew; a mother who was strong and well.
On my wedding day, I was blissfully calm, my mother having tended to many of the finer details with her endless cross-checking of lists. I was told it rained the morning of my wedding. I didn’t notice. My sister-in-law arrived to have her hair done, updating me that the flowers were yet to arrive. I was dismissive of her. I was prepared to be Zen. My mother helped me into my wedding dress. She looked at me, at the two loose strands of hair either side of my face not swept up in my hairdo, tucking one behind my ear.
‘It’s supposed to look like that,’ I said.
It is likely that every bride experiences this moment when everything, the planning, preparations, seem as though they are about to come unstuck.
‘This is not you,’ my mother said. ‘This is not how you wear your hair.’
I calmed myself, looked in the mirror, and tucked both strands back into my hairdo; she was right.
Approaching the birth of our first child, I was intent on training myself the way one might train for a marathon. I read ‘Birth Skills’ by Juju Sundin. I had a plan for my labour. I would move through each tool at my disposal, visualisation, breathing, until I had nothing left. While lying on the hospital bed – where I had been told to stay put (there goes my plan of moving around the room during labour, I thought) – I transported myself to the Muskoka Lakes of Ontario, floating along its smooth, silky water. Muskoka was the place of my mother’s childhood summers, which became the place of my childhood summers when were lucky enough to swing it. The midwife tracking the progress of my induction, turned the drip up, amping up my contractions and thus the pain. With each incremental increase I switched my practice, from floating to swimming, steadily making my way across the bay.
My husband, who sat by my side, rather helplessly, looked at me with smiling eyes,‘Where are you now?’ he asked.
Eventually I replied, breathlessly, ‘Muskoka’s long gone.’ But like a runner setting small, achievable goals, channelling all their strength just to reach the next lamppost, the visualisation of smooth silky water had got me there.
My mother didn’t just give me the gift of Muskoka, she gave me strength by showing me how to be strong. An incredibly strong woman, with a high tolerance for pain – my mother will voluntarily sit in a dentist’s chair and take the drilling without an anaesthetic. She is selfless in her care for her family, often to her own detriment; up and down from the dinner table like a yo-yo, while struggling to digest her food. She recovered from her diagnosis some twenty years ago, of which I retain only a few strands of memory of this time, because she made sure that my childhood was a happy one.
I used to tell my mum how beautiful she was. I used to make cards and pictures with pretty flowers and words expressing the far-reaching extent of my love. It is regrettable when you fail to recognise how fortunate you have been; how fortunate you are.
And so, as I enjoy the friendship of my mother, the strength of her love – while continuing to forge my own path in my own determined way – I recognise that a girl may forever need her mum. Something I recognise in my mum, as she speaks of her own mother, Mary Clare, my namesake, who died months before I was born. A double-barrel name with no hyphen, written in just the same way, because, my parents agreed, no other name would do.